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Lavender’s Blue + Rue de Rivoli Paris

A Boulevard of Dreams and Things

Rue de Rivoli Archway Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We met at the little bar across the place from Dior’s called the Fontaine-de-something and had one – two – three Champagne cocktails on my expense account. Then we had lunch.” Shamrocks and Unicorns, Lord Kilbracken

Rue de Rivoli Railings Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The Rue de Rivoli is very straight and unaltered from end to end: three simple storeys above an arcade,” according to Nairn’s Paris. “But it feels quite different from the autocratic straightness of the 18th century. That was for show; this, basically, is for convenience, and there is a fine, underplayed urbanity in the way Percier and Fontaine consistently refused to hot up what is in fact a very long elevation. Impersonal but not inhuman; the mile long covered street never gets on top of you, and life can take what shape it likes inside the framework.” Life takes on a luxurious shape inside No.228 Rue de Rivoli: Le Meurice, an urban Versailles.

Rue de Rivoli Decorations Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Mansard Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Cornice Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Lamps Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Sky Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Window Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Le Meurice Hall Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Mirrors Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Ceiling Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Chairs Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rue de Rivoli Hotel Meurice Cushion Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I love Le Meurice!” professes chic Parisienne Maud Rabin over Alain Ducasse Selection Champagne and almonds in Bar 228. Fellow Parisienne Elisabeth Visoanska, forever epitomising chicness too, reckons, “Le Meurice is a Parisian palace injected with the modernity of Philippe Starck. It’s a clash of two worlds. Yesterday there was a giant ice sculpture in the middle of Bar 228!” Bookending Paris in spring, it’s our second midwinter visit in a row to the five star plus hotel; likewise, we graced Hôtel Meurice in Calais with our presence over the last two midsummers (Calaisfornians know how to street party!). Living joyfully and fearlessly, forever in search of beauty and the unbeknownst, we’re alive to every sensation and experience. Paris just keeps on sizzling.

Stuart et Maud Le Meurice Paris © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architecture Art People

Trevor Newton + Dartmouth House Mayfair London

The First September

The new year really starts each autumn. As the first golden leaves fall, where is it possible to see The Wallace Collection, Sir John Soane’s Museum and a swathe of Parisian hôtels particuliers in one room? In the Long Drawing Room of Marchmain Dartmouth House, on the same street where Oscar Wilde once resided in Mayfair, but only if you’re on the exclusive invitation list to the EV (Evening View). This house beautiful is not open to the public. Interior Impressions, a major exhibition of drawings by Trevor Newton is presented and curated by Anne Varick Lauder. It’s the first monographic exhibition of the accomplished artist in eight years.

New York born London based Dr Lauder, who has held curatorial positions in the J Paul Getty Museum, the Louvre and the National Portrait Gallery, announces, “We are delighted to be in the Long Drawing Room for the Private View of new drawings by the English topographical artist Trevor Newton. All 60 new works are of grand or highly individual British and European interiors from Versailles to The Ritz, to the Charleston of the Bloomsbury Group and the intimate Georgian houses of Spitalfields. It is therefore appropriate that this invitation only exhibition should take place in one of the finest private interiors in Britain.” She adds, “Interiors within interiors!” A 21st century – and for real – Charles Ryder.

Trevor studied History of Art at Cambridge, later becoming the first full time teacher of the subject at Eton. A present of The Observer’s Book of Architecture for his eighth birthday spurred a lifelong interest in buildings and their interiors. Rather than pursuing modish photorealism, he sets out to capture impressions of a place, often adding whimsical details imagined or transposed from other sources. His atmospheric renderings experiment with the interplay of light and reflection. Dense layers of mixed media – body colour, pen and ink, wash, watercolour and wax resist crayon – evoke a captivating sense of the aesthetic and nostalgic. His framing portrays a theatrical awareness of view: how the onlooker visually enters the room. There’s an enigmatic absence of people yet signs of habitation: a glass here; a magazine there. Trevor says, “My drawings are attempts to convey the emotions generated by art and architecture.” Emotional revisits. Anne considers, “It’s like he redecorates on page.”

Fellow alumnus Stephen Fry recalls, “While many of his contemporaries at Cambridge were Footlighting or rowing, Trevor seemed to spend much of his time drawing and painting. His specialities then were lavish invitations for May Week parties, illustrated menus for Club and Society dinners, posters and programmes for plays and concerts, along with a highly individual line in architectural fantasy drawn for its own sake and for the amusement of his friends. He managed to combine the frivolous and the baroque in a curious and most engaging manner: Osbert Lancaster meets Tiepolo. Trevor is still drawing and painting as passionately as ever and though the content of his work may be more serious, in style and execution it still has all the youthful energy and verve which characterised it over 30 years ago.”

Dartmouth House is something of a hôtel particulier itself. A château-worthy marble staircase and 18th century French panelling in the reception rooms add to the cunning deceit that just beyond the Louis Quinze style courtyard surely lies the Champs-Élysées. The Franglais appearance isn’t coincidental. In 1890 architect William Allright of Turner Lord knocked together two Georgian townhouses for his client, Edward Baring (of the collapsible bank fame) later Lord Revelstoke, to create a setting for his collection of French furniture and objets d’art. Ornament is prime. Dartmouth House is now the HQ of the English Speaking Union. Except for tonight. When it’s utterly-utterly Great Art Central.

Categories
Hotels Luxury Restaurants

Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris + La Cour Jardin

Up and About in Paris and London | Garden of Eatin’ 

We fill the lacuna 

Lunch where? Paris. C’est le weekend. We’re Ivy’d out midweek although the Soho and Tower Bridge Brasseries’ zucchini fritti and truffle arancini are highly addictive. We’ve been wild about the Century Club’s wild mushroom burger. Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris. Bows and bows of balconies along Avenue Montaigne. Next door to Christian Dior’s original couture house. The dress code for La Cour Jardin – the hôtel’s exclusive courtyard restaurant – is “elegant”. Ah bien. It’s cheek to high cheekbone with models. Martinets or marionettes? Ask Webb’s Road resident runway veteran Simon Duke. Poppy red parasols like oversized cocktail umbrellas keep the wrinklies wrinkles at bay. Virginia creeper clambering up the stone walls, smart trellis chairs among olive trees and acres of linen tablecloth… really the whole place simply oozes Parisian sophistication. The century old courtyard has been pimped and pruned to perfection by designer Bruno Moinard, displaying a talent for resonant juxtaposition. So this season.

We live off our acuity and salutary reminders

More mirrors than Versailles; more columns than the Coliseum; more pizzazz than Versace: this is the new luxury. Friday Street. Field of freedom. Earned ease. En plein air. A galaxy of culinary stars has aligned to make this restaurant happen. We’re star struck. Le grand fromage himself Alain Ducasse hooked up with Lawrence Aboucaya, owner of legendary Parisian vegetarian restaurant Pousse-Pousse, to concoct a homage to high energy menu. Under the watchful eye of Head Chef Mathieu Emeraud, the menu is fashionably divided into The Garden | The Classics | The Sea + The Shoreline | The Land + The Farm | The Herbs Garden | The Desserts. Just in case you miss the celebrity connection, there’s Alain Ducasse’s own brand champagne and the menu cover features an 18th century botanical watercolour from his personal collection.

We spend our years as a tale that is told

Sicilian olive oil accompanies randomly zoomorphic bread rolls, hatching out of folded linen baskets like long beaked ducklings. Artichoke and lemon risotto (€36.00) possesses all the freshness of The Garden. Tomato and pepper amuse bouche matches the red awnings. So does the John Dory, dusted with tomato and fennel (€58.00). Wide brimmed plates generously frame the food. Strawberry and almond (€22.00) come with madeleine on the side. And as an encore, orange and something petit fours. Chef Pâtissier Exécutif Angelo Musa’s efforts might expand waists by a few millimetres, but everyone’s so worth it. The proof is in the pudding. Delish! Us! Service is seamless. Doors magically open, The New York Times deftly appears: minimum fuss, maximum attention. Rooms range from €990 (single) to €28,000 (party time).

Wonders unto many, we are magnified and tainted by elegiac projection, poignancy and beauty

The sommelier arrives to explain the wine we aren’t ordering. Côte de Nuits 2000 (Richebourg) and Côte de Beaune 1999 (Corton Les Renardes). Both vins rouge, both Domaine Leroy, both €5,800. The wines are: “A perfect balance of acidity, alcohol, tonic and flavour. They have a controlled, perfect constitution.” We go for the more modestly priced €12 Saint Galmier Badoit Finement Pétillante 1778 (naturally carbonated water, to you). Good for catwalk silhouettes. An early autumnal breeze gently ripples through the courtyard. C’est la vie. La Cour Jardin: such seductiveness; an air kiss; make it a French kiss; a momentary embrace; a dalliance to the music of time. Dynamic magnetised moments. Life’s marginalia. Mise en Seine.

We are not your nebulous want 

Dinner in London? What gives? Let’s do The Arts Club again. Hold the front page! Newspapers: today’s headlines; tomorrow’s cat litter. Business and pleasure handsomely combine at a private dinner with former Cabinet Minister and Chief Whip the Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell MP in the very non plebish Ante Room. Sharing plates can be terribly irksome but it does mean enjoying three puddings or at least dipping spoons in three puddings. Tout suite. Ever dedicated to a story arc, the wine is French de rigueur. Vermentino 2015 (Domaine des Yeuses, Vin de Pays d’Oc) and Légende de Lafite 2015 (Baron de Rothschild, Bordeaux). La vie en rosé. Not so good for catwalk silhouettes. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • Starters: green bean and artichoke salad | Caesar salad | prawn cocktail | Applewood smoked salmon with honey mustard dressing
  • Main: grilled seabass, marinated aubergine and tomato
  • Sides: creamed spinach | gratin dauphinois | glazed carrots
  • Puddings: baked cheesecake with cassis sauce and berries | banana sticky toffee pudding | strawberry tart

We are the chosen ones

Categories
Design

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew London + The Queen’s Speech

Join the Queue 

Kew Gardens Christmas Trail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Kew Gardens Christmas Trail. Lakeside explosions of The Nutcracker, kaleidoscopic cacophonies of the chattering classes, lower-upper-middle class people in glasshouses, why my Versailles. “Oh,” the Queen was overheard muttering at the recent dinner in her honour at Dublin Castle, “I rather like this clinking of glasses,” as the lively Irish in unison cheered “Sláinte!”  To quote another Elizabeth, the Anglo Irish writer Ms Bowen, “I think the main thing, don’t you, is to keep the show on the road.”

Categories
Architecture Art Country Houses

Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart BlakleyIt took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

 

 

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 46 hectare estate. 28 hectares of woodland. 1.6 hectares of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley

Categories
Architecture Town Houses

William Thackeray + Small Dublin Houses

Perfectly Formed

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It’s the Tardis effect. Buildings that are larger than they look. Dublin has them aplenty. Perhaps it’s a Franco-Irish leftover from Marie-Antoinette’s pining to play at cottage living under the shadow of Versailles. Sir William Chambers’ 1758 Casino Marino, Italian for ‘little house by the sea’, is the Irish capital’s very own Très Petit Trianon.

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, terraced dwellings with all the appearance of being single storey (ok, some of them actually are) sprung up across the city. Bungalows they ain’t. These are miniature sophisticated architectural gems in the grand manner.

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This low lying building boom really took off when the Dublin to Dún Laoghaire (née Dun Leary née Kingstown) railway was completed in 1834. These little houses were erected – standalone, semi or together – along the coast from Sandymount near the city centre southwards to Monkstown. The closest equivalent English style of the early versions is Regency.

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While some are all on one level, most have a flight of eight or so steps leading to a distinguished doorcase. Despite lacking the verticality of the townhouses lining the streets and squares of the city centre, these small houses still boast the typical Dublin doorcase treatment with attached columns separating the central door from sidelights and a half umbrella fanlight overhead. Many are three bay with a tall sash window on either side of the doorcase. Below the door is typically a string course and beneath it the shorter windows of a semi basement continue the lines of the windows above.

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The symmetry and classical proportions of these ‘upside downside’ houses as they are sometimes affectionately called, their main floor raised to piano nobile status, so evocative of French and Italian villas but in maquette form, raise questions about their origins.

The Wide Street Commission of 1757, which lent Dublin such lasting gracefulness, could not rid the city of cholera or beggars. Middle class people quickly took advantage as speculators built summer houses or ‘bathing lodges’ along the stops of the new railway line.

Monkstown was one such area of sudden growth. It doesn’t get a mention in Pettigrew and Oulton’s directory of 1834 but a year later was recorded as being well populated. In 1843 Thackeray records in The Irish Sketchbook:

‘Walking away from the pier and King George’s column, you arrive upon rows after rows of pleasure-houses, wither all Dublin flocks during the summer-time – for every one must have his sea-bathing; and they say that the country houses to the west of the town are empty, or to be had for very small prices, while for those on the coast, especially towards Kingstown, there is the readiest sale at large prices.’

He continues, ‘I have paid frequent visits to one, of which the rent is as great as that of a tolerable London house; and there seem to be others suited to all purses; for instance there are long lines of two-roomed houses, stretching far back and away from the sea, accommodating, doubtless, small commercial men, or small families, or some of those travelling dandies we have just been talking about, and whose costume is so cheap and so splendid.’

The influence of the classical tradition in Ireland is easily traced to Sir William Robinson’s seminal 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham. James Gandon and Thomas Ivory flew the flag throughout 18th century Dublin. In the 19th century Francis Johnson, John Skipton Mulvany and the two generations of William Murray kept neoclassicism to the forefront of development. Chambers provided the precedential style of the mini villas; now all that was required was a forerunner in scale.

That comes in the form of an early domestic work by James Gandon. In 1790 he designed Sandymount Park for his friend the landscape painter William Ashford. Like a piece of couture, this house reaches a high standard of splendour which filtered down in a diluted prêt-à-faire fashion to the masses.

The three bay symmetrical single storey over raised basement entrance front extends on either side by a blind bay with a niche at piano nobile level. A rectangular pediment (is there such a thing?) surrounded by one helluvan urn is plonked above the central doorcase. A peak round to the side elevation reveals that Sandymount Park is in fact a three storey dwelling: clerestory windows are squeezed under the eaves.

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Single storey with or without a basement houses are an Ireland-wide phenomenon. Urban builders may have been inspired by their country counterparts. Gaultier Lodge, County Waterford; The Grove, County Down; and Fisherwick Lodge all express emphatic horizontality, a love of the longitudinal.

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A printed source of inspiration can be added to these built form examples. In 1833 John Loudon published his voluminous Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architect. On one of its 1,400 pages, he illustrates The Villa of Hanwayfield which is three bays wide by three bays deep over a raised basement. A pitched roof behind a low parapet rises above the symmetrical elevations, similar to Dublin’s little villas. A few months after its publication, Loudon mentioned in two magazines that his doorstop of an Encyclopaedia had been a bestseller in Ireland. This coincided with the development of Dublin Bay.

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Whatever the inspiration was, the fad stuck. Towards the end of the 19th century, Portobello in South Dublin was developed on a grid pattern of one and one-and-a-half storey terraced housing. The material (brick) and the fenestration (plate glass) may have been Victorian but the upside downside model ruled.

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Today, these mini villas of Dublin are much sought after hot property. Larger than life characters like Colin Farrell love them – he owns one in Irishtown. But still, a peculiar descriptive term eludes them. Their distant country cousin is a cottage orné. With that in mind, Lavender’s Blue declare ‘cottage grandiose’ as the correct terminology henceforth.5 Small Dublin Houses lvbmag.com